In this episode, Alay Yajnik and Saja Raoof, Principal of Raoof Law and Of Counsel with Philip Levin and Associates, discuss how Saja has used her introverted nature as an asset and a strength to build her practice via networking and speaking.
- “Public speaking makes sense for introverts because you dictate who you engage with.” – Saja Raoof
- “Introverts are people who have the propensity to vanish alone and the proclivity to make decisions while staring out a window.” – Saja Raoof quoting Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack.
- “You don’t have to change anything about your nature. You just have to figure out your roadmap.” – Saja Raoof
- “Ultimately you can’t learn something from a book. You have to apply the concepts.” – Saja Raoof
Alay Yajnik: Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage. This podcast is dedicated to helping attorneys earn more money, get better clients and spend more time with family. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik, founder of Law Firm Success Group. Smart Business Guidance for small law firms begins in 3…2…1….
Alay Yajnik: And it’s my pleasure to welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage, my friend and colleague Saja Raoof, principal of Raoof Law and Of Counsel to Philip Levin and Associates. Saja, welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage.
Saja Raoof: Thank you so much for having me.
Alay Yajnik: I really appreciate you being on the program. And as an immigration attorney, I know there’s a lot of different things we can talk about, particularly in the situation that we find ourselves in.
Alay Yajnik: But you’re also an introvert and you’re very open about being an introvert, just like myself. And so I would like to first of all, because “introvert” means different things to different people, just take us through. What does it feel like for you to be an introvert?
Saja Raoof: Well, now I’m open about it, it used to be sort of a secret, and when I mention it to others and they tell me that they’re also introverts, it’s like this little secret club that we identify with only to each other.
Saja Raoof: It used to be something it became something that I recently became more comfortable talking about with the encouragement of two extroverts, my good friends Carol Marzouk and Marc Hankin. And the way that happened is that when networking went online, when the pandemic started last year, Marc referred to the new leveling of the field as revenge of the introverts because it played to our strengths in networking. So he had me, with Carol’s encouragement, joined him recently on a conversation, a presentation on how extroverts and introverts networked differently. And that was last Wednesday. And since then, this is my fourth time speaking on how introverts can network. It just sort of snowballed from there and it became a claim to fame.
Saja Raoof: I’m really doing wonderful. I am soaring. And it’s not because of the Biden Administration.
Alay Yajnik: I’m glad you’re doing really well. That’s cool. So I’m curious. You mentioned a few times now, as we’ve talked about how you were kind of a closet introvert and now you’re talking about it freely. Really, I’ve dealt with this for so long that it’s just not a thing for me anymore. It’s just part of who I am and I have no problems talking about it, but I also don’t feel a need to talk about it. I don’t think it’s worth talking about that much, and I’m just curious to hear what has been your response, what reactions have you gotten in your approach and talking about the fact that you’re an introvert and that’s a thing, and it’s a special thing, and here’s how you deal with it. How have people responded to that?
Saja Raoof: I just think back to Pre-2018, when networking was the single most stressful word in my vocabulary as a law firm owner and how I would not go to networking events unless my best friend from law school would come with me, and it was just this anxiety ridden process. And I needed to make networking work for me because that’s how I got my best referrals. No amount of spending on SEO will substitute for good referrals. So that’s my target audience, is the introverts who are in the shoes that I was in before. Talking about it never would have occurred to me if Carol and Marc hadn’t decided to bring me into the conversation to the presentation last week. You can think extroverts for initiating that process.
Alay Yajnik: It’s great. I look forward to seeing your presentation. That should be really cool. One of the things that is so interesting for me is so many people who are introverted, myself included, are really comfortable speaking. It just seems weird, it’s like, “Yeah, I freak out at a networking meeting, but get me up in a room in front of 500 people, I’m totally fine.”
Saja Raoof: It goes back to the example of the author of the book who who says she was the D.J. in college because unlike a bartender, you don’t have to engage in small talk. You don’t have to engage in conversation. True all eyes are on you, but you are dictating what comes out of your mouth and who you engage with. So in school in Saudi Arabia I used to be the…I don’t know the word for it in English…but there was this morning presentation from two or three students in front of the whole school. And that was usually my job, even though I was an introvert. So public speaking is definitely make sense for introverts, in my opinion.
Alay Yajnik: Actually, one of my law firm clients with a number of associates asked me, the associates actually asked me, to do a training for them on how to make small talk in networking meetings. They don’t know how. And so it’s going to be I don’t know, I haven’t put the talk together yet, but it’s going to be really interesting, actually, teaching people how to make small talk in a way that’s not cliched. I suspect one of the reasons for that is there’s a lot of introverts in that associate group and they’re looking at this going, “I’m going to walk into a networking meeting. What on earth am I supposed to say?” And it’s funny because you mentioned that with practice, it gets better and it does. But at least for me, it never goes away. I’m still not comfortable walking into an unknown room. I don’t enjoy it. I can get through it better than I could, you know, five years ago. But it’s still not easy. And I still struggle with a lot of that stuff.
Saja Raoof: I’m still learning that. We had an SF14 E.C. Meeting yesterday and Robert Gillette was the first to show up and he said, “So how are you doing?” I said I’m fine. He said, “How are you really, really doing?” So that kind of probing, I think, is a useful approach for bypassing the small talk and getting to the genuine things that people actually enjoy talking about and creating a more meaningful connection.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah, see, it’s interesting because I’m most comfortable when I’m taking over and leading the conversation. You know why? I can make sure everyone has plenty of things to say and I don’t have to talk about myself.
Saja Raoof: I love it. That’s why introverts make the best G.L.’s!
Alay Yajnik: Exactly, exactly. Jump in and like make sure everyone has their piece. And I’ve got 10 seconds. Here’s what I do. Let’s go back to the main room. It’s pretty funny.
Alay Yajnik: There’s a lot of confusion, too, about who’s an introvert and who is not.
Alay Yajnik: And I’ve had people tell me, “I’m an introvert because after a full day of meetings, I’m tired.” I’m looking at them going, “that’s not an introvert!” So take us through what it feels like for you. How did how did you come to the realization that you are actually an introvert?
Saja Raoof: There’s a book that I will refer to several times that I recommend highly called Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Debra Zack. She defines introverts as people who have the propensity to vanish alone and the proclivity to make decisions while staring out a window or taking a brisk, uninterrupted walk. Their depth of concentration could cause them to miss an earthquake from its very epicenter. And that applies to me and that applies to people I know who identify as introverts. I used to define it as people who are highly selective on whose company we keep and are very particular on the time, place and manner of those interactions. But I realized I’ve always known that networking doesn’t come to me naturally. That needs a little bit of preparation and planning and strategizing and conversations and debriefing with other introverts afterwards and. It just takes a little bit of figuring out, but it’s doable.
Alay Yajnik: So there’s people in networking groups that when they walk into a room, they light up the room, they command the room, they really enjoy it. They thrive on it. You can tell that the more they’re in that kind of environment, the more energy they gain from being in that environment. It’s pretty cool to watch. That is an extrovert.
Alay Yajnik: Someone who’s an introvert, like you mentioned, Saja, you know, I don’t know about about your situation, but when I have to go to a networking event, I have to get myself psyched up. You mentioned you have to prepare. How do you feel after the networking event is over?
Saja Raoof: If it’s a group I’m new to, then I do need to schedule time afterwards to relax. And so after, for example, last week’s presentation on extroverts and introverts, I had the time scheduled for doing some kind of mindless activity just to be able to transition to my other meetings. If it’s a group that I’m long friends with and feel comfortable around I don’t need to do that afterwards.
Alay Yajnik: That’s cool. And I would encourage everyone if you’re trying to figure out if you’re an introvert or not…if you’re asking the question, you probably are an introvert to be clear about that. But it’s oftentimes how you feel after a networking meeting or any kind of group get together where you have to be social and you don’t know the people. The extrovert people jump in, thrive on it, love it, enjoy it and make a really good impression. The introverts are the people that really don’t want to be there and don’t want anyone to talk to them.
Saja Raoof: And they fake getting phone calls so that they have an opportunity to step away from conversations.
Alay Yajnik: I have literally looked at my phone. Nothing is on the phone. I would literally stare at a blank screen just so I would not have to talk to people. Or have you ever done this? Have you ever put the phone up to your ear like you’re on a call and left the room? “Oh I have an incoming call,” and I just walk out.
Alay Yajnik: So how is introversion created challenges for you as you’ve built your book of business and built your firm?
Saja Raoof: It has taken more time than it would for an extrovert to figure out how to effectively network. So in addition to reading the book I mentioned and planning pre-meeting rituals and post-meeting rituals and meeting with introverted friends to discuss and which is a nice way of saying complain and sort of vent. So, you know, but once you figure out how to overcome the stress of that and you become more comfortable with it, essentially what it is, you’re not changing who you are, but you’re navigating the situation by applying new skills.
Alay Yajnik: So, yeah, how is it that you’ve overcome this introversion?
Saja Raoof: So I in addition to the encouragement from Carol and Marc, the aspects of introversion that I’ve decided to use towards my advantage and towards building my practice are the fact that introverts are good listeners and we prefer the focus to be on the other person, so we will do less talking and more listening. And that works well both for our abilities as attorneys and for our clients to we were able to empathize with them naturally. We also this is a term that, thanks to Marc Hankin’s encouragement of me over the past year, I call his kind of networking and both extroverts and introverts do this “marc-eting” spelled with a C the way he spells his name. And that’s the act of giving to others so generously that they can’t help but think of ways to support you in return. And for introverts to have that kind of giving spirit is very uplifting for us, because once again, you’re taking the attention off yourself and you are figuring out how to engage the other person. And that is the most effective and sincere form of networking.
Alay Yajnik: So you recently became a group leader in Provisors and congratulations for that. You’re now a networking leader and you go to a lot of networking meetings. And I’m curious to hear about how you deal with this, knowing that you’re going to be in a room, whether it’s virtually or in person with a bunch of different people. And you’re doing this regularly. How do you get the energy to show up at your very best?
Saja Raoof: The question that is on my mind all the time isn’t how am I appearing and how am I coming off. And the thousand questions that you can ask about yourself, is my accent coming through or am I talking too fast? There’s preparation, of course, on what you want to say, and that’s separate. But the questions that you’re asking about yourself, your focus needs to be on others. So in my Provisors group, 99 percent of the time I’m thinking about how do I help my new members grow their business and network effectively? And by focusing on that, that relieves the pressure that usually prevents introverts from networking.
Alay Yajnik: That’s terrific advice. It’s about thinking about about something else that can command your attention. So in your case, it’s about how can I help the other people in my group or the other people in the room, which is terrific. We did a podcast on Introverts earlier, this was several episodes earlier, with Kirsten Howe and what she does is she goes to a networking event with somebody else and she introduces that person. So once again, this idea of making the other person look good. If people are listening to this they might be asking themselves, “If I’m making all these other people look good, how is that going to help me?” It’s helping everybody else.
Saja Raoof: In Provisors we have what’s called the currency of providers, which is testimonials. So you give a testimonial for an individual who has supported you or referred to you business. And the advice always improvisors is to make it 90 percent about the person you’re giving the testimonial for and only 10 percent about yourself. When we started on Zoom when the pandemic started, I got into making Zoom-onials, which is Marc’s word for testimonial that is given over Zoom. And this is a wonderful tool for introverts for many reasons.
Saja Raoof: First of all, once again, it takes the attention off yourself and you pour your effort and video editing skills into singing the praises of the person who sent you business in audio visual format, sort of like a mini documentary. And then second, you don’t have to do any of the talking. You just hit play. Zack’s book says that in college she used to be a DJ. So she has a clear and specific role. It may sound counterintuitive for introvert to be a DJ, but she has a clear and specific role. She doesn’t need to engage in small talk. She can wear headphones and she can be comfortably alone and get the spotlight at the same time.
Saja Raoof: So that’s how Zoom-onials also works for me and that has done wonders for my networking over the past few months.
Alay Yajnik: Well, it certainly draws a lot of positive attention to you and to the person you’re featuring. And it’s interesting you would say that because I know you clearly set the standard when it comes to doing these these mini videos, these mini films that you put together. I always wondered when I hear Zoom networking is the is the revenge of the introverts, what on earth they mean by that? Because it actually takes a lot more energy to project energy into a computer monitor, which is just kind of dead and lifeless than it is to work a room, because in a room there’s other energy that we can feed off of. But when we’re just staring at a dead screen, it’s that much harder. But your point about preparation really rings true. If I’m in a networking meeting, I have to stand up and and talk off the cuff and I can’t take notes. And it’s just this thing here, I can literally read off of a sheet of paper that I have near my keyboard and no one will ever know. So all that preparation is now a lot more invisible. And we can use aides and tools to get us through the meeting like the the short videos, like the PowerPoint slides.
Saja Raoof: All I can say is if COVID was invented in a lab, then the it was definitely an introvert.
Alay Yajnik: Well, as I like to say, there’s nothing good about the pandemic and about covid, but there are a lot of good things that have come from it. So we’ve known each other for a long time. And in the years that we’ve known each other, I have just been so inspired by how you have transformed yourself personally and how you transformed yourself professionally. So take us through that journey if you could.
Saja Raoof: It was smooth sailing from my practice since I set it up in 2012 until the previous administration was inaugurated in January of twenty seventeen, and I had initially thought that the immigration focus would be on the groups that were discussed in the twenty sixteen campaign, specifically Muslims and Mexicans. It was a bit of a surprise that an executive order by American American that was issued in April 2017 also called for a focus on business immigration. And I realized early after that executive order that the focus wasn’t so much.
Saja Raoof: It wasn’t so much on enforcement of business, immigration law as it was on excluding foreign nationals sort of nativism or nationalism over trumped the interests of the companies that were petitioning for foreign nationals. And I do business immigration. So that was my focus under that very high pressure atmosphere that immigration attorneys were facing. We all felt very overwhelmed.
Saja Raoof: We were struggling and at some point I decided to stop trying to figure it out for myself and to reach out to you. And you had been a very generous giver since the first day I met you at a holiday party at the Bar Association in 2017. So you were the first to come to mind when I decided I need help figuring this out. And from there I had thought that it would take a year or six months at least for me to start seeing changes.
Saja Raoof: But I started seeing changes a couple of months in and you really taught me the art of working smarter, not harder. And in addition to your wonderful guidance, you put me in the room with other attorneys who are also figuring out how to manage their practices and doors open for me. So law firms invited me to join to partner with them. I started getting fantastic referrals. I started getting invited to for speaking engagements, media appearances. I revamped my practice. I got so much more out of what I was expecting. I was hoping just to restore my status to 2017 levels. But the practice of immigration it became exciting, it became sort of my commitment to it was refreshed and I would have creative ideas. I even had attorneys who had mentored me in the beginning of my career call me to ask how I figured out how to get certain work visas approved, so etc.. Never I’ll never be able to quite thank you for your wonderful impact and my practice on my life. We worked together for a year and I still feel the effects of having worked with you.
Alay Yajnik: Well, I appreciate that, Saja. Thank you so much. However, that being said, there is another side to that coin, which is that I provided some guidance along the way, but I remember our conversations and I remember your participation in the group meetings. You took deliberate steps, you took action, you implemented the advice, and you spent a lot of time and effort getting yourself known in the area, building those relationships with attorneys, showing up at other law firms in a positive way and attracting the kind of attention that that you now get. You’ve earned all of it. And that’s all due to your hard work and your willingness to learn and grow as a person. And as I said, it’s incredibly inspiring. And it’s because you’ve been open to it and you’ve been receptive to it. And you thank people for it. You know, there’s a lot of people that are are helped along the way and they don’t bother to thank the people that help them out. But you do. And that attracts other people to you. And I just want you to know, as we’re talking here on this on this podcast, I want you to know that you deserve everything that you have now because you have worked to earn it. And yes, other people have helped, and that always happens when you are open, when you work hard and when you’re deserving, other people will come into your life to help you out. None of us can do this on our own.
Alay Yajnik: And so you have done an amazing job and I look forward to seeing the continued growth of your firm and where you take things from here.
Alay Yajnik: As a business coach, I’ve got to touch on this. Please share with us how your transformation as a person has impacted your business.
Saja Raoof: I have learned that the preconceived notions that I had of what could be limitations are actually things that I could put to good use. As my good friend and G.L.A. of San Francisco 14, Brittny Botorff says, “work your work.” So I thought introversion was going to be a perpetual limitation to my networking, but I was able to figure out how it could serve as a strength. And I have put it to good use.
Saja Raoof: And on the personal front also I was diagnosed with adult onset type one diabetes in mid-2018, just a couple of months before you and I started working together and I had decided not to tell anyone outside of family and close friends because I didn’t want to be reduced to the diabetic attorney. I don’t want to be just thought of as I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a diabetic attorney. And this did become sort of a limitation troikas, for example, business lunches. I would leave the table as soon as the food was served. Then I had a visual for the portion of carbs and I’d go to the restroom and give myself insulin, which is an awkward point to leave the conversation. But then eventually, as I got involved more in the diabetes community and with the encouragement of other adult onset type ones who had, unlike most type ones, didn’t live with it from childhood, decided to embrace it and talk about it and figure out how, what do you do when you’re in the middle of a meeting and the medical devices that replace your pancreas go off and how do you handle that? And it has, you know, deciding to embrace it and talk about it. It has inspired others improvisers to approach me and tell me they have adult onset type ones in their family. And they’d like to talk to me about how I’m managing the stress. So once again, is the concept of taking the attention off myself and figuring out how I can support organizations that support diabetics, how I can support type ones. And that is liberating and transformational.
Alay Yajnik: It’s so interesting because all these things you’re talking about, you know, your your stance with with diabetes and how you dealt with Type one diabetes and how you are utilizing your introverted nature to build your business, all of these things are actually really making you stand out way more so than so many extroverts that I know. You have a strong presence on LinkedIn. You’re everywhere. You’re all over Provisors. People are singing your praises up and down the state of California. It is really inspiring, as I mentioned, to see.
Alay Yajnik: For other attorneys who are introverted, who might be thinking, “I don’t really like networking. I get really anxious before I go into a networking room. And when I’m in the room, all I can think of is I just want to get out of here. I can’t imagine what it takes to build a book of business.” What advice would you give to them about how to build a successful firm?
Saja Raoof: First of all, be yourself. You don’t have to change anything about your nature. You just have to figure out your roadmap. And you could learn the theories of networking from Zack’s book and many other books that are specifically aimed at introverts for networking.
Saja Raoof: But ultimately you can’t learn something from a book. You have to apply those concepts. And it will feel uncomfortable at the beginning. But I promise it will get better with practice. And you want to go in with a question every time you network with someone. The guiding question in your mind should be, how can I serve you? So before the pandemic, I would bring a notepad to business lunches and I would ask the other person to understand their business in depth and figure out how to support them and what is their ideal client and where do they get their business from and what would be a useful introduction for them. And just do that exercise of trying to brainstorm and think of your contacts and how you can serve them in ways that they may expressly ask for or things that you come up with for them. So that is how I would navigate networking as an introvert.
Alay Yajnik: And how would you how would you weave or how do you weave speaking into that? Because you do a lot of speaking as well.
Saja Raoof: I practice a lot. And at the recommendation of Marc Hankin, I worked with Deborah Shames, who is a speaking coach who trained him on speaking, and she is a magnificent public speaker coach. And once again, it was one of those things where I thought I can figure it out for myself. I’ve done public speaking in the past, but she took it to a whole new level. So that’s a wonderful resource I would highly, highly recommend.
Alay Yajnik: And so as you look towards the future (2021 is still mostly ahead of us) and beyond, what really excites you about Raoof Law and your role at Phillip Levin and Associates in the future?
Saja Raoof: We have weathered a seemingly insurmountable era in the history of immigration over the last four years. As stressful as it’s been for us and the immigration community, it’s strengthened our resolve and really refreshed our commitment to preserving the US as a nation of immigrants. And I love the connections that we’ve created in the immigration community. I may have never met for at least not as early as I did, if it weren’t for the fact that we needed to reach out to each other in the immigration community and support each other and that kind of camaraderie that we created for ourselves and for our clients and ultimately for the US, the US is ultimately our client because when we work on maintaining its character as a nation of immigrants and bringing the best and brightest to the US to build the American dream and make the US more diverse and innovative society, we are ultimately serving the United States.
Alay Yajnik: And if people wanted to reach out to you and connect, whether it’s to bring you in as a speaker or because they’re looking for an immigration attorney as a partner. What is the best way for them to connect with you?
Saja Raoof: My website is my initials: sar.law, and I’m also on LinkedIn. Saja Raoof.
Alay Yajnik: Everyone that is Saja Raoof. Saja is a principal of Raoof Law and Of Counsel to Philip Levin and Associates and an introvert who is a business development extraordinaire. Saja, thank you so much.
Alay Yajnik: And that’s a wrap for this episode of the Lawyer Business Advantage podcast. One thing that would really help both us and other new potential listeners is for you to rate this show and leave a comment in iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you tune in to listen. And I want to hear from you. So connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know what you think of this episode. And if you are a solo or an owner of a small law firm and you’re looking to earn more money, attract better clients or reduce your stress, we would love to talk with you to see how we can help. Request your free law firm assessment by visiting lawfirmsuccessgroup.com. Again, that URL is lawfirmsuccessgroup.com. We look forward to talking with you soon. Thank you for listening. My name is Alay Yajnik. Until next time, remember, you can see freedom. You can embrace happiness. You CAN build your Perfect Practice.